STILLWATER — As the city continues to attract more people and businesses, growing pains have become the primary issue in the upcoming city council election.
Two incumbents on the council are challenged in the April 2 election.
Councilor Joe Weaver, running for his second term, faces Oklahoma State University employee Micah Lefebvre, and councilor Philip Pina, who was appointed in April 2012, faces OSU professor Gina Noble.
Stillwater has been one of the fastest-growing cities in the state for the past 10 years, according to U.S. census data, and recent years have brought an influx of chain businesses and residential construction projects.
With the growth has come controversy, including a recent zoning issue.
In February, the city council voted against rezoning a tract of land for development of an apartment complex following protests from a nearby neighborhood association.
Frank Kerns, the owner of the land, has filed a lawsuit to prevent the city from enforcing its zoning restrictions.
Noble, a resident of the nearby neighborhood, spoke publicly against the rezoning proposition.
She said she decided to run for city council long before the zoning issue came up, but it cemented her resolve to run.
“I think that while we're growing, we need to protect the character of established neighborhoods, and we need to protect investments and interests of homeowners and business owners,” she said.
Noble has been teaching at OSU for eight years, and she said in addition to zoning issues, the city needs to pay attention to quality of life and infrastructure.
“They all connect and are related,” she said. “Especially in a growth period, I think we need to pay attention to all three.”
Noble said she would like to see Stillwater become a destination where people will come to visit and live.
Pina, who works with special-needs children at Stillwater Junior High and voted against rezoning the land, said he is also concerned with how the city will grow in coming years.
“Infrastructure is always one of those things we would like to improve,” Pina said.
“Quality of life is always a concern, and economic development is very important so we make Stillwater a place people want to live.”
He said he tries to make himself available so citizens can voice their concerns about issues within the city. The zoning issue, he said, has shown him that communication is important in a growing city.
“I've learned that developers as well as neighborhoods need to come together and put their cards on the table,” he said. “Neighborhoods want to be preserved. And if there are developers, they need to come and talk so they can get their goals accomplished.”
Running for a second term, Weaver said he wants to focus on working with the council as a team to tackle budget and land-use issues.
“We have a comprehensive land-use plan, and there will be complications as far as how to implement that, just like every other city in the country,” Weaver said. “I want to be a part of a team of five councilors that can develop a vision together.”
Weaver has worked in finance with the university for 30 years, and said his experience has been an asset in planning the city budget. His position with the university is something he said helps the city maintain a working relationship with OSU.
“If we're going to be growing, we need to be growing together,” he said.
And the topic of growth is something Weaver's opponent said he is concerned about.
An administrative support specialist at the University Store, Lefebvre said he is concerned that the growth of businesses is being prioritized over growth of citizens.
“I think it's important to grow businesses, but I'm not sure that courting giant chain restaurants and stores or privatizing business is the best way to improve the quality of life for Stillwater residents,” he said in an email.
Lefebvre used the example of an Olive Garden being built close to locally owned Italian restaurant Da Vinci's and said this “doesn't exactly seem like something that helps local businesses.”
He said the city needs to be dedicated to promoting businesses that pay workers higher wages and improving the city's infrastructure to help Stillwater grow in the right way.